We can safely say Kawasaki didn’t really produce an out-and-out sports bike with the ZX-9R, especially towards the end of its life cycle, when it was facing competition from the mighty Yamaha R1 and Suzuki GSX-R1000. The old 900 was more of a soft sports bike with great power and comfort rather than a cutting edge sportster with razor sharp handling like the R1 and Suzuki.
However in 2004 that all changed when Kawasaki introduced the now legendary ZX-10R which was described by many, with more than a little understatement, as ‘a bit of an animal’. It was light, produced big power (its 181bhp is still impressive today) and looked like it wanted to pick a fight with anything. In the right hands it was a formidable track weapon and took the world by storm.
In 2006-7 Kawasaki tried to tame its beast. The most obvious change was the introduction of the twin underseat exhausts (which is why it was soon labelled the ‘wheelbarrow’ model) and all-new styling but it was also calmer, heavier and wider. As a result it never really hit the mark.
Brian Alford from specialists Kawasaki Autorama in Batley agrees. “You could say the original ZX-10R was Kawasaki’s first proper modern sports bike. It was fuel injected, with a sporty chassis, big power, radial brakes, petal discs, and they’re still sought after today. I believe the original ‘04 ZX-10R will soon become a classic like an original R1 or ‘Blade now does.
"We’ve already seen prices flat line and they are now rising a little. What’s more, getting hold of an original ZX-10R is getting harder and harder as most ended up on the track or were highly modified. However, if you’re lucky you can stumble upon a good one. The one we have is absolute mint, perfect, and just shows how good the build quality was and still is from Kawasaki."
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FOUR OF THE BEST
2004-2005 Kawasaki ZX-10R C
The original, hardcore ZX-10R took the world by storm. Light at a quoted 170kg dry with an arm-ripping 181bhp according to Kawasaki, it was always going to be lively and attract a certain type of customer. Nick Morgan team owner of MSS racing simply describes the original bike as, “bloody brilliant bike, 160bhp stock, 175bhp with a fettle and a great chassis”. Back in ‘04 it came with radial brakes on petal discs, fully adjustable suspension front and back and digital dash with lap timer. It was aimed at the racy, track day public and proved to be a big hit.
Reknown for head shaking handling when ridden very hard on public roads, most new customers fitted aftermarket steering dampers. Some early models had generator problems which you need to keep an eye on and the wrong tyre pressures or poor tyres can affect scary handling. A trick of the trade was to change the linkage on the 04 ZX-10R to ZX-6 linage, but it’s not recommended by Kawasaki. A cheap way to increase stability is to lengthen the wheelbase, make sure the rear spindle is towards the back of the arm.
2006-2007 Kawasaki ZX-10R D
For some the lively ‘04 model was a little too racy, which meant Kawasaki tried to calm things down with the 06 model. The styling was changed; it got little wider, fatter and heavier thanks to the twin exiting exhausts under the seat. These also gave the 06 ZX-10R the nickname ‘the wheelbarrow’. Nick Morgan says “We had so much trouble getting power out of the engine, and couldn’t get the lazy chassis to handle. The cylinder heads were different, it was harder to tune, but they had fixed the generator problems of the first bike thankfully.”
The engine was similar to the predecessor with the same peak power, however a damper came as standard and it wasn’t as race focused. Despite being the least popular model it shouldn’t be underestimated; it’s lazier handling meant it was stable and easier to ride, it was also roomier.
2008-2010 Kawasaki ZX-10R E
Back to form with the ’08 model. Power and torque was up with a higher compression ratio (Kawasaki were quoting close to 200bhp with ram air). Nick Morgan says: “Our superstock bikes were pushing 185bhp or thereabouts and we could easily go to 200bhp with a tune if we needed to. They were a really quick bike and reliable, they could take a thrashing.”
Styling was aggressive as was the handling, but it wasn’t slap happy as the wheelbase had been lengthened and rake had been stretched. The engine was also lower in the chassis which gave it greater stability. Compared to the competition it lacked midrange and usable real world torque but on the track it was a weapon, and won back to back track roads tests against the competition. Early models had a recall for a faulty regulator rectifier which was done by Kawasaki, so make sure yours had been changed.
2011-current Kawasaki ZX-10R F
The modern day ZX-10R, laden in rider aids and technological advances like power modes and ABS, was also the first Japanese superbike to come with traction control as standard. It worked, and worked well.
BSB Team owner Nick Morgan loves it. “It’s a brilliant bike, the proof has been in the results worldwide, and lap records have tumbled here in the UK. It’s so damn fast, a very quick bike. With a pipe and power commander you’re tapping on the door of 200bhp and that is at the back wheel. We can push race engines to over 210bhp easily and CRT engines are closer to 225bhp, without a stupid amount of expensive work.”
The engine and chassis have proven their credentials on track, winning the BSB title, just missing out on the WSB crown and taking wins in road racing. In a typical Kawasaki trend the 2013 ZX10-R makes big power, making it the only Japanese bike to come close to the BMW S1000RR’s monster power. However it does lack a little real world mid-range compared to Japanese rivals. Some early models had recalls for rectifiers so make sure everything has been done. Also check for any crash damage. Frames can crack easily even in low speed crashes while swing-arms are also weak if hit in the wrong way by a kerb for example.